HomeCar CultureOur Favorite Roads: Fall Colors

Our Favorite Roads: Fall Colors


This article was originally published on August 20, 2020, and with autumn here it’s the perfect time to re-visit the roads with incredible fall foliage.

I grew up in the Midwest — the North Shore of Chicago to be more precise. I came into awareness in an era where people still took long Sunday drives. I didn’t appreciate it quite as much while I sat in the back seat of the red 1975 Chevrolet Caprice Classic convertible with my little sister on the long drives in the country.

We would stop in places like Long Grove, a rustic shopping district; visit my great-aunt and uncle in Sylvan Lake; look at real estate in Barrington and Kildeer. An open-air, top-down experience in nice weather, which would rub off on me: I still drive convertibles and spyders to this day. I now look back at that time with warm sentiment.

But the best trips were always the winding Lake County, Illinois, roads in the fall. The tree- lined roads were so beautiful. The trees would be changing from summer greens to oranges, reds, yellows… like an explosion of fireworks.

Burning leaves, cleared from lawns of large estates, would ignite the senses with pleasant incense. The landscape kept my attention and the boredom of the seemingly pointless drive suddenly became a sensory-pleasing event.

Door County, Wisconsin

As I grew and had cars of my own, trips to Elkhart Lake and Door County, Wisconsin, and to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan would again ignite the senses to the beautiful landscape in my windshield. I never got tired of driving north into Wisconsin or visiting my long-time friend in Michigan. Once at my destinations, there were the waters of Green Bay, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior with its bluffs and cliffs, shimmering with the colors I had grown to love so much as a child.

The Au Sable Light Station, surrounded by colorful fall foliage, stands on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Grand Marais.

I also had a motorcycle. Day trips into Wisconsin and Carpentersville, Illinois, as the fields of grain were harvested were a beautiful sight as I went from town to town, exploring long-closed racing circuits including Wilmot, Meadowdale and Lyndale Farms. While the Midwest was not a mountainous region like I would discover living in California and Arizona, there were still hills and valleys.

Autumn in Northern Michigan

The most scenic region in southern Wisconsin is the Kettle Moraine. Road America in Elkhart Lake takes full advantage of the rolling terrain with amazing elevation changes. The roads around Sheboygan County are similar. Rolling, dip and dive, rise and fall. Plenty of little watering holes and restaurants dot the map offering Middle-European fare, and good beer.

Wisconsin Autumn Colors

Up in the Upper Peninsula, long twisting roads carve through endless forest. It is far more rugged in this area – as are the people. Civilization is almost hidden in the trees until you get to Marquette or Sault Ste. Marie with the gigantic locks allowing passage from lake to lake for the large ore- and coal-carrying ships.

Old abandoned mine in the upper peninsula of Michigan at sunset in the fall

These are roads with which I fell in love – particularly during autumn. The entire world just seemed so much better and worry free when you travelled these highways and byways. It reminded you to slow down for a moment and take a glance at how beautiful life really can be.

Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler is the Managing Editor of the Journal. Tom has a lifelong love of cars and motor racing – beginning with the 1968 USRRC race at Road America, in a stroller, at eight months of age. His words, photos and broadcasts can can be found on a myriad of media. He has won the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor Award and a Gold Medal in the International Automotive Media Awards.


  1. Outstanding. I grew up in Michigan and had children that went to college in Wisconsin and Illinois. Very familiar with your reference points. Thanks !

  2. Tom, wonderfully written story, to which I can resonate completely. For me, it began in the forties, in New Hampshire. Trips in the family sedan on Sundays, very much as you described having taking in your youth. My absolute favorite time was Fall and as I grew into my own vehicles, they were sports cars and motorcycles: top down and wind in my hair. Wow! Thanks for a lovely trip down memory lane.

  3. I grew up in Virginia so for me it became Skyline Dr. up through the northern part of the Blue Ridge mountains as a yearly day trip just to get away.
    Haven’t done that drive in years now…


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